Fashion and politics definitely work well together: clothes can indeed be used to project specific messages and reach out to voters, fellow politicians and rivals. The fashionable attire of certain First Ladies also fascinates many critics and political commentators who often try to read in the choices of clothes important political message. This was the case in the last few weeks when Obama's Inauguration spawned a series of features on newpapers and Internet sites, blogs and forums about the style (and, in the last few days, about the new hairstyle) of First Lady Michelle.
The designs showcased in this small but well-researched exhibition entitled “The Spirit of a Dress” were selected by the museum in-house curator Alina Heinze in collaboration with the Finnish textile and clothing design house Marimekko and anticipate the functional yet elegant trademarks of the “Jackie” look - jackets with three-quarter sleeves or A-line dresses matched with above-the-elbow gloves, low-heel pumps, and pillbox hats.
Jackie Kennedy opted to wear Marimekko's designs for the U.S. Presidental Election in 1960 to look modern, youthful and stylish, but also approachable. Marimekko's dresses not only emphasised Jackie's personality, but also reflected the spirit of the time, oozing through their bright colours a terrific optimism, mirroring the political change Kennedy represented.
The dresses - characterised by clear shapes, architectural silhouettes and vibrant prints and colours and accompanied by rare photographs and vintage magazines chronicling Jackie Kennedy's style - could also be read as genuine embodiments of freedom. The Jackie Kennedy who donned them was indeed a more carefree woman compared to the grieving widow in mourning attire at her husband's funeral or to the sophisticated Jackie Onassis donning a wedding gown from Valentino's 1968 White Collection, a dress that marked a brand new start in her life.
What fascinates about the main theme of this exhibition?
Alina Heinze: Jackie Kennedy was the first person in politics who used fashion to express certain things and to achieve certain reactions. During the campaign in 1960, Jackie Kennedy knew that it was important to reach out to the voters and establish a connection with them. She expressed this through the choice of her clothes. She wore dresses with simple cuts and hardly any jewellery. So the woman who grew up in wealthy surroundings became less inapproachable for the voters. Her style was simple and classic but still exclusive. Jackie Kennedy managed to connect with the people and her style played an importand part. At The Kennedys Museum you can get an in-depth insight of how Jackie Kennedy became a style icon and why she still is.
How many pieces are showcased in this event?
Alina Heinze: There are six dresses on display for the exhibition. All six were chosen from Marimekko by Jackie Kennedy for the presidential campaign in 1960. One of the dresses was originally worn by Jackie Kennedy. Two of the dresses are from that time. Three of the dresses she chose were reproduced from the fabric of that time for the exhibition. In addition to the dresses four different patterns of Marimekko from the early'60s are on display. They complement the dresses and illustrate that bright colours were on the rise.
Which is your favourite Marimekko print on display and why?
Alina Heinze: I do not have a favourite print in particular. What really appeals to me is that the prints are timeless, and cheerful. The striped dresses for example look fresh and vivid – just like a day by the sea.
What did you learn about Jackie Kennedy while researching for this exhibition?
Alina Heinze: What became apparent while working on this project is that Jackie Kennedy really was very fond of bright colours and not shy to wear them. Her preference for pink was quite unique in the U.S. in the early '60s.
What would you say Marimekko's prints represented for Jackie Kennedy – freedom, modernity, the spirit of those times?
Alina Heinze: Jackie Kennedy chose to wear adequate and modest clothes that were nevertheless precious but would not dissociate her from American women during that time. She was pregnant with John Jr. in 1960 but, apart from that, she always preferred to wear loose cut dresses. Marimekko's dresses were tailored just that way. But this was not the only important thing to Jackie Kennedy: the fashion label was nearly unknow in the U.S. in 1960 and that made those simple dresses really exclusive.
This week the news were focused on President Obama's second inauguration, and his wife was once again under sthe spotlight from a fashionable point of view: in your opinion, how has the First Lady's attire changed in the last few decades?
Alina Heinze: The significance of Michelle Obama's style is that she remains true to herself. Like Jackie Kennedy whose style developed from her being a student to becoming first lady, but always stayed classic and special. I see the same for Michelle Obama.
So far what kind of feedback did you get from the visitors?
Alina Heinze: Jackie Kennedy is always a topic that interests people throughout the generations. Most of the visitors are fascinated by her classic and modest style and political impact. While walking through the permanent exhibition of the museum they get an idea that there are bright colors hidden in the black and white photos of Jackie Kennedy. Those vivid shades highlighted in the exhibition are exactly what excites the visitors the most.
The Spirit of a Dress", The Kennedys, Auguststraße 11-13, 10117 Berlin-Mitte, Germany, until 17th February 2013, Opening Times: 11.00 a.m.-7.00 p.m.
Black and white photographs:
Jackie Kennedy at the arrival of the Shah of Persia, Washington, DC, 1963 © Steve Schapiro
Vending booth photo of Jack and Jackie Kennedy, Boston, 1954, © John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston
John and Jacqueline Kennedy, Washington, D.C., 1963 © Steve Schapiro
Jackie Kennedy dancing at a gala, Boston, 1967 © Steve Schapiro
All images courtesy of The Kennedys Museum, Berlin, Germany
Exhibition images © CAMERA WORK
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